There we were. A spirited game of oldtimers’ recreational hockey done for the night. Sitting around cutting everybody down to size – who botched what pass, who couldn’t score if his life depended on it, or, which tender let in the worst goal. Then, not surprisingly, the conversation shifted to comparing planned or dreamed-about vacations in the South. There was this pool-side service or that all-inclusive price or this best beach for just lying in the sun. And I couldn’t resist.
“Yes. Sounds OK,” I said. “Then, what do you do after that?”
Anybody who’d heard my snide comment looked at me as if I had horns growing out of my head. Of course, the answer was: “After you’ve had a day in the sun, you do the same the next day and the next day.” But some of my friends have grown to expect my cynicism about vacations in the South. They know that I’m not the escape-from-the-Great-White-North-to-the-Sun-Belt kind of person. It’s partly because I’ve always looked at down time as a time to do things. A time to be invested in exploring, physically doing something, keeping the synapse in my brain firing. Not just lying around.
Years ago, my parents bought a condo in a gated community on the Atlantic side of Florida, near a place called Pompano Beach. It was nice as an escape to a place with pools, some recreational distractions, and minutes by car to Hwy. U.S. 1 that was home to some fun restaurants. But, again, after a day or two of that, there was nothing to do. One of those rare times we were down there, I found out that a travelling exhibit of Titanic artefacts and memorabilia had just opened in Miami. I couldn’t wait to buy a ticket and take in the exhibition. Anything to get away from just lying around, baking.
Another time, at my wife’s suggestion, we decided to do a little exploring inland away from the ocean-side resorts on the Atlantic and the Gulf Coast. She was actually looking for an equestrian facility where dressage competitors had gathered. I was certainly game to check it out. So, we got a map, gassed up, drove away from the coastal green of hotel resorts, golf courses, inland waterways and palms, toward the Everglades. I was amazed.
“Not only is there nothing to do here,” I editorialized, “but it’s flat as a pancake.” I mean there was nothing. Not even trees or hills. Yes, periodically there was evidence of the inland swamp, where water and a bit of sawgrass interrupted the skyline. But otherwise, as far as the eye could see, was empty, flat horizon. Is it just a coincidence that Florida is as flat as it is boring?
All right, so what’s so good about doing things here this time of year?
Well, I happen to think there’s lots. A few weeks ago, I was up the highway to Bancroft for an evening presentation. On the drive up I listened to an astronomer on radio talk about that night’s first display of Geminids. They’re the once-a-year meteor showers from the asteroid Palladian. Anyway, after midnight when I was headed back south, I stopped a couple of times to watch for the shooting stars. I didn’t see that many Geminids. But the chance to see the winter northern hemisphere of stars away from light pollution farther south, was worth the drive. They’d be impossible to see anywhere else.
A lot of us wimp-out in the winter. “Ah, it’s too cold to do anything outside.” Maybe. So why not do things indoors? Why stand in line at all those expensive movie theatres at those vacation spots in the States, when you can see “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” at the Roxy right here in town? Or, forget about going all that way to see Lightning hockey during your Tampa holiday or Heat basketball while you’re vacationing near Miami. I know they’re not winning a lot this year, but why not get out and support the Bruins? The hockey’s often more spirited. Even better, if the temperatures moderate at all, maybe there’ll be some pond hockey out there for us. Or, there’s the next best thing…
Last week, while the kids were still out of school, we found out there was ice time available at the arena for public skating. And I’ve been encouraging my city-dwelling daughter to get her boys out on the ice. They both seemed a bit hesitant; they’re not the athletic types. But one of the boys was suddenly curious enough. We found him some skates that fit. I laced them on. And he took his first ever strides on ice skates. And I was there to prop him up and witness it all.
No. I won’t win any friends in Florida tourism circles, but escapes to the sunshine state, for me, border on humdrum. When it comes to winter getaways, for my time and money, it’s got to be more than waiting for the sun to burn me to a crisp.